FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Magdalene Serenity House in Fayetteville is taking additional steps to help house previously incarcerated women.

The group is hoping to have an additional house up and running by January 2024 that will house four additional women. The ladies who live there will pay affordable rent and are required to have gone through the Magdalene Serenity House Program.

According to the executive director, April Backrodt, the aftercare house was purchased in November 2020. A week ago, the Fayetteville City Council approved $128,789 that will go towards renovating the home for women to live in.

Under the current program, previously incarcerated women can live in the Magdalene Serenity House for two years. During that time, they don’t have to pay for housing. They also receive healthcare, insurance and assistance cleaning up their criminal background.

Backrodt said a lot of women can fall into a cycle of continuously going back to prison if they don’t have the right resources.

“When they get out of prison, people do not realize they come out with absolutely nothing. They are left to find housing to pay their fines and fees to get a job, and it’s a bit insurmountable,” said Backrodt.

Sophia Dugwyler, who is a graduate of the Magdalene Serenity House program, was one of those women. She had been in and out of the prison system since 2010. When she got out, she had no other option than to go home.

“It started off with drug charges, and I kept going back because I wasn’t able to stay sober,” said Dugwyler.

The cycle continued until she got involved with Magdalene Serenity House in 2017. Since her graduation, she’s gotten back on her feet and even works for the house to rehabilitate women after prison.

“They helped me learn how to maintain my recovery, become a great employee and a good mother,” said Dugwyler.

Part of the issue is a lack of housing options for the previously incarcerated population. Backrodt says very few property managers are willing to rent to people who have served prison time.

“We’ve only identified one property management company that has been willing to work with us. We have called just about every property management company in our community, and it’s just difficult for them to give us a straight answer. It’s kind of an ‘apply and see’ sort of situation,” said Backrodt.

The program gives women the opportunity to get a sustainable jobs and find other options after prison. According to Backrodt, the program has gone well.

“The women who have done this program have flourished. They’re doing well in the community, they are getting their children back, they are employed, they are giving back to their community, and truly some of the strongest, most incredible women I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with,” said Backrodt.

In the past year, Magdalene Serenity House had over 300 referrals from women seeking placement into the program. Backrodt said there is a large need for identifying ways to work with this population of women and help them stay out of prison.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church founded the Magdalene Serenity House while church members were doing prison ministry. Backrodt said they noticed when women finished their sentences, they often returned to the same situation they were in before prison.

The program has been open for five years and along with providing two years of free housing, it also provides healthcare, therapy, insurance and help clearing up criminal history.